Nick Chater believes that the “hidden depths” of the mind are illusory. If we perceive our actions to have motivation, or suppose ourselves to have beliefs and desires, then we are wrong. He holds that we generate our beliefs, values, and actions as we go along.
“Thoughts, like fiction, come into existence in the instant that they are invented and not a moment before. The sense that behaviour is merely the surface of a vast sea, immeasurably deep and teeming with inner motives, beliefs and desires is a conjuring trick played by our minds. The truth is not that the depths are empty, or even shallow, but that the mind is flat: the surface is all there is.”
This position rejects psychodynamic theory, and validates cognitive behavioural therapy which, in attempting to change behaviour and belief in the now, is attempting to manipulate something more fundamental that an imagined unconscious self.
Chater has written an entire book (The Mind is Flat: The Illusion of Mental Depth and The Improvised Mind) on this idea. This article for the Observer is a neat summary.
Read. This. Book.
This one is in my top three psychology books for A level students to read this year. It is exciting because it sketches out some future directions that cognitive neuroscience is going to take in the coming years and decades.
When Galileo pointed his telescope at the night sky, he saw for the first time the machinery of planetary motion. This laid the foundations for our modern understanding of astronomy. The same is happening today in brain science. The ongoing improvement in brain scanning is driving new understanding of how the brain actually works. This book is a guide to the road ahead.
Not only that, but the first few chapters are a brilliant primer on the basics of neuroscience and biopsychology, and will be great revision for this part of the exam.
A really interesting read, and very accessible.
“A connectome is the totality of connections between the neurons in a nervous system.”
“In the nineteenth century, the American psychologist William James wrote eloquently of the stream of consciousness, the continuous flow of thoughts through the mind. But James failed to note that every stream has a bed. Without this groove in the earth, the water would not know in which direction to flow. Since the connectome defines the pathways along which neural activity can flow, we might regard it as the streambed of consciousness.
The metaphor is a powerful one. Over a long period of time, in the same way that the water of the stream slowly shapes the bed, neural activity changes the connectome. The two notions of the self – as both the fast-moving, ever-changing stream and the more stable but slowly transforming streambed – are thus inextricably linked. This book is about the self as the streambed, the self in the connectome – the self that has been neglected for too long.”